This is one of the funnest little birds that I know of to watch, and one of the more remarkable. I often see them on the bays near where I live during as they migrate between the arctic where they breed down to the open oceans far to the south. They migrate across most of the continent, so there’s a chance each of us has seen them, although they prefer routes that give them access to wetlands, mudflats, shallow rivers and lakes.
Today I am sharing images of non-breeding birds, that is juveniles that were born earlier in the year and adults that I have already shed their colorful party clothes. This is how I know them best, when they are heading south, and stop over for a little fuel in larger numbers. Usually I see them in shallower water, only a few centimeters (3 inches) up to 50 centimeters (16 inches) deep, and very close to shore (usually within a few meters). This always seems remarkable to me, seeing them in such a shallow protected environment, since they winter on the open ocean, with no land in sight. And they are such a small waterbird, only 18cm (7 in) in length.To be such a size and bobbing in the vastness of the sea seems so surprising to me.
To see them is to see motion. I have never really seen one be still. They are quick and lively. When they swim, they put their whole body into it, with their heads bobbing to the motion the entire time, pumping forward and back. Suddenly they give a fast jab with their beak or they lunge forward and they have their prey, (an insect or small crustacean) and swallow it in a single quick bite.
I’ve never known anyone to have seen this bird and not enjoy watching it. They are rather distinct in their motions and habits, easy to identify as a phalarope just by how they move.
All of these photographs were taken from kayak. The Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus</em) is a fairly fearless bird where kayaks are concerned, as long as you keep your motions very slow and deliberate, no sudden movements. If you watch where they are swimming, and can guess where they will be heading, it can be possible to position yourself that they will swim right by, in close quarters, as long as you don't really move. The only hard part when they are that close in is to keep the lens trained on them, as they are such a quick and dart little bird.
To imagine that this “cute”, diminutive bird can migrate so many thousands upon thousands of miles and the live and prosper on the open ocean will always continue to amaze me